Thursday, January 31, 2008

The life of a personal assistant

I started working since a very early age. Working hard has always been both a motto and normal behavior for my family. We are so used to being workaholics that most people who know me ask me "when do you sleep?". Truth is, I sleep very little, because I really work very hard. But I also play hard. And one of the things I've done (one of the jobs I have had) is that of a personal assistant. At 11 years old. I am not kidding you.

This post has two reflections embedded in it. The first one refers to me as a personal assistant to people. For the longest time, I have been helping people succeed. So, I often have wondered "well, after all this helping people out, who helps me out?". And that led me to the second reflection, which is associated with the title of this post. I have had a personal assistant. And he was FANTASTIC.

On to the first part. Me as a personal assistant. People tend to ask me for help and/or advice all the time. That doesn't make me their personal assistant, true. But, I have helped my parents, some of my colleagues and my boss to lead their day-to-day lives. That's because I'm pretty damn organized, and I can recall things very easily (since I have a photographic memory). I am, in some senses, the perfect personal assistant.

However, I have to admit that I much rather have a personal assistant than being one. That's the second part of this post. My former personal assistant, MV, started out as just an intern (my co-op student, if you might). He then took on more and more duties, and learned to basically read my mind. How did I manage to finish so many writing projects, papers, attend so many conferences, etc. and still have a personal life? MV was there to help me out. He was the one who convinced me to get a cell phone, he knew what my calendar looked like, we shared access to my Outlook to book my appointments, and he even used to call the people I was supposed to meet to confirm.

Having someone to help you with your day-to-day life is a blessing. Trust me on that one, I've been on both sides. I have been the one who tells my Mom "you have to give a lecture here, you are supposed to meet with so-and-so at 5 pm, this is the dress I think you should wear, etc." Same with my Dad "Dad, so this is your 3 pm appointment, then I am going to transcribe your document, see you at seven - we have dinner with So and So, blah blah".

On the other hand, I have been successful (and as some people have called me, a 'star') because of my very capable personal assistant. Now, there are a few questions I have.
  • First, do people value their PAs?
  • Second, does everybody need a PA or are we so technologically-advanced that we don't need someone to help us with our day-to-day lives?
  • And third, why on the planet does academia fail to recognize the need for a project manager (who will indeed make sure that you don't overspend the budget of your research grant, and ensure that you'll be at the conference in the country you are supposed to be delivering that talk)?
Just some thoughts...


Stephen Rees said...

I have never had a PA. But boy, I sure could have used one! It seemed to me that as I rose through the ranks. the level at which one got a PA was always the next one above mine. So my boss always had a PA. I didn't. There were people who reported to me, but I would not dream of making them a PA. Though one young person showed me one day what it would be like if I was better organised - but was naturally unwilling to organise me as it would have been a full time job.

If it ever happens that someone says to me, "we want to hire you" I won't negotiate a salary - but I will insist on a PA. But I will still make the coffee!

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